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Danny Boyle‘s latest film, Trance, is a victim of its own ingenuity. It’s a film about memory and how a person is defined by their memories. These memories can be tampered with, removed, replaced, even changed ever so slightly to make reality seem different than it actually is. To bolster those ideas, Boyle gives the film a lurid feel. At any given time, the audience isn’t sure if what they are seeing is real, fake, a dream, a memory or some blending of both.

Unfortunately, that ambiguity begins to overpower any interest generated for the characters or story, leaving the film with a cold feeling. There are certainly mysteries to be solved, and Boyle’s energetic style provides some fun moments, but if you can’t believe what you’re seeing at any given moment, you can’t begin to care about the characters either.

In Trance, James McAvoy plays Simon, an art auctioneer who hides a valuable painting during an elaborite heist. Hit on the head during the crime, he forgets where he hid the loot. So criminal mastermind Franck (Vincent Cassel) employs the services of a hypnotherapist named Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to find the memory, buried within in Simon’s head.

From there, things begin to blur. Allegiances and realities meld with dreams and desires. Boyle’s signature visual style lends itself well to the narrative; we’re immediately drawn into this seemingly original and exciting premise. As the story unfolds, however, the connections between characters and plot points get more and more constricted. The film starts to limit itself.

That changes ever so slightly once we begin to fully explore the levels of Simon’s mind, but by this time Boyle hasn’t given us many concrete facts to work with. Everything, and everyone, is questionable. Just as you begin to side with one character, their motivations are up for debate. In theory, that kind of uncertainty would make for a satisfying reveal. In the case of Trance, it takes away from any personal connection the audience can make with the characters.

On the positive side, Trance has twists and turns that are very surprising and plenty of visual clues that may improve the experience of a second viewing. On first viewing though, despite the really good performances by the three leads — especially Dawson – Trance left me unfulfilled and ready to be woken up.

/Film rating: 5 out of 10

Thanks to Film Independent at LACMA for the screening. Trance opens April 5.

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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